The college basketball season is shaping up to as Dick Vitale would say “whacky as ever”. The Top 25 rankings are not a sign of strength, rather an escalator of teams moving up and down with regularity. Regular followers of college basketball say there are no great squads this year and though we generally agree, almost always the best teams emerge in February, not January. Here is what we saw this weekend.
Is Michigan ready to dominate? – Over the past few weeks, the most complete team we have seen is Michigan, who is expected to be No.1 this week. The Wolverines have Trey Burke, who might not only be the best point guard in the country, but is starting to play like a player of the year candidate. Tim Hardaway Jr. has become a more complete player and does not disappear for stretches like in the past and Glenn Robinson III (GR3 anyone?) seemingly is improving week by week. Despite being in the Top 5 almost all season, Michigan is 12-6-1 against the spread, including a 7-1 and 6-2 ATS mark away from Ann Arbor.
As good as the Wolverines are the start of their February schedule has them at Indiana, a revenge home game with Ohio State and at Wisconsin and Michigan State. If they win three out four, this could well be your top overall seed in the field of 68.
Some people might call this competitive – Of the 16 teams in the Atlantic 10 (another league that cannot add), 13 of them have one to three conference losses, creating quite a logjam. Virginia Commonwealth lost twice this week as a favorite to come back to the pack. Butler defeated a solid Temple squad, thanks to the return of Rotnei Clark, who gives them another offensive threat.
Tobacco Road Detour – There is a still six weeks left in the ACC regular season and the last unbeaten team remaining in conference action is a LONG way from North Carolina. The Miami Hurricanes are 6-0 and are the most impressive squad in the league. The Canes have as veteran a team you will find from the Power 6 conferences which gives them the maturity to take on adversity. Miami can beat teams with offense or defense and after drubbing Florida State 71-47 yesterday; only two teams have surpassed 60 points in Miami’s last dozen tries.
Coach Jim Larranaga club is a basketball bettors dream. Not are the Hurricanes only among the best Play On units in the land at 12-3 ATS, they are 9-1 UNDER, supplying parlay opportunities.
ACC Look In – After watching N.C. State again, there is not a better offensive team in the ACC than the Wolfpack. The combination of frontcourt players C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell and G Lorenzo Brown makes them a lethal contingent. However, as we saw against North Carolina, this team has problems focusing on the defensive end. A quick observation on N.C. State is they either make the Elite 8 or are knocked out the first Saturday or Sunday of the NCAA tourney.
Finally catching up on some the early season games I taped but failed to watch and Duke is so much better with Ryan Kelly in the lineup. What he gives the Blue Devils is another dependable big body to go with Mason Plumlee and be there on some nights if the fellow senior gets into foul trouble. Sure hope he comes back since this is a Top 5 team with him.
Dull Period Mean Losses – Louisville and Minnesota are both on losing streaks after being ranked in the Top 10 recently. What is most obvious is both have lost faith in their outside shooting, which has eroded their confidence. Neither the Cardinals nor the Golden Gophers are exceptional three-point shooting teams, with Minnesota 80th and Louisville 219th in the big picture.
If you look into True Field Goal Percentage, taking into consideration two and three-pointers plus free throws (TS% = PTS / ((.44 x FTA + FGA) x 2), we find transition teams like these two ranked just 60th (Minnesota) and 106th (Louisville) which is far below their capabilities. Each of these squads has to start imposing their will on opposing teams or they will never realize their true potential.
Michigan State Thoughts – The Spartans are 17-4 and 8-10 ATS and are very difficult to figure. I have seen Michigan State play five times and finally have formulated my first true impression on Tom Izzo’s club. The Spartans play hard, are always in games and do many things well. Nonetheless, Michigan State lacks a true identity on offense or defense. They have too many players which I can only surmise lack the confidence on the offensive end to be outside shooters or run the offense consistently in the lane area.
On the rise – Could not help but be impressed by Villanova and Georgetown this week, with both winning twice against ranked teams.
Villanova, as you might have witnessed is the first unranked team in 11 years to knock off two Top 5 teams and G-Town handled both Notre Dame and Louisville with stifling defense (38.2 percent on the season). If both continue to find offensive answers, they will move up the Big East standings.
After Arizona State was throttled by in-state rival Arizona 71-54 in Tempe, it appeared the Sun Devils were exposed as frauds despite their 14-4 record. Yet over the weekend, Arizona State won and covered against both L.A. universities in conference action. Jahii Carson is an electric point guard and if center Jordan Bachynski contributes as much on offense as he does in defense, this becomes an interesting outfit. Let’s see how they do visiting the Washington schools this week.
Did this really happen? – Northern Illinois scored four points in the first half of their game at Eastern Michigan, which are the fewest points since the advent of the shot clock (1986). The Huskies were a ridiculous 1 for 31 in the first half, which included 29 consecutive missed shots. NIU heated up (?) in the final 20 minutes and was 7 for 30 and finished with seven made baskets, including 1 for 33 beyond the arc. Almost as peculiar, the Huskies only lost 42-25 as six-point underdogs.
Oregon and Florida Shoo-ins? – After this weekend, the Ducks are the best team in the Pac-12 and the Gators are the class of the SEC. Though Oregon might lose a couple of times in the conference, they will either be significant favorites or short road underdogs in a few worst case scenarios. Playing in the North Division, the Ducks are done with the Arizona schools and UCLA for the regular season and have to focus on peaking at the right time to do damage in the tournament.
The SEC is flat out a mediocre basketball conference and Florida will have a chance to go spotless if they can hold off Ole Miss at home Saturday. The Gators should have regular blowouts and even the two Kentucky matchups are very winnable since the Wildcats were a better basketball team in early December than they are today.
Oddsmakers are keenly aware of their situations and will price them accordingly the rest of the season.